DER Documentary

New England Fiddles - New England Dances


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by John Bishop
color, 57 min + extras, 1984/1989




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Since colonial times, the fiddle has enjoyed a primary place in American traditional music. Playing the fiddle is both intensely personal and an expression of cultural aesthetics. The fiddler provides the spirit and music for dances which are important elements for community cohesion. New England styles and tunes originate in French and Anglo-Celtic traditions which have been transformed into the music we hear at fiddle contests and contra dances in the Northeast today.

New England Fiddles (28:30) presents seven of the finest traditional musicians as they play in their homes and at dances and contests, passing their styles to younger fiddlers, and commenting on their music. Featured are Ron West (Yankee), Paddy Cronnin (Irish), Ben Guillemette(Quebecois), Wilfred Guillette (Quebecois), Harold Luce (Yankee), Gerry Robichaud (Maritime), and the Cape Breton style of Joe Cormier (National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts).

New England Dances (28:30) is a spirited visit to some old dances, focusing on the callers and musicians who make them happen. It features Phil Johnson calling squares in Lebanon, Maine with the Maple Sugar band; John Campbell and Norman MacEachern at the Canadian Club in Watertown, Massachusetts; William Chaisson and Joe Cormier at the French American Victory Club in Waltham, Massachusetts; Arcade Richard and Victor Albert in Leominster, Massachusetts doing quadrilles; and Charley Mitchell at the Blue Goose in Northport, Maine doing contra dances. Also included are some bravura dance sequences by Irish step dancers Liam Harney and Deirdre Goulding, and Cape Breton step dancer Harvey Beaton.

This DVD also contains
11 tunes (21 min) from the outtakes
8 minutes of Simon St. Pierre, the remarkable fiddler from Northern Maine, during his 1983 Washington DC trip to accept a National Heritage Award, (footage from the Alan Lomax Archive)
John Bishop talks about making the films
An annotated transcript of New England Fiddles is included as a PDF text file.

"A fascinating film about how peoples' lives relate to the music they make." — Pete Seeger
"Like the best art, John Bishop's films speak for themselves. New England Fiddles takes its place in a body of work that deals uncompromisingly with the roots of today's popular music, and portrays with insight and affection both a genre and its creators. " — Peter Guralnick

American Anthropologist review by Nick Spitzer

TV Broadcasts
[New England Dances] Maine Public Broadcast, USA, 2013

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